Editor's note: Kirby Ferguson is a New York-based writer, filmmaker and speaker who created the web video series Everything is a Remix. His videos, like the one above, can be found on Vimeo, an online community where artists share their films.
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) - Can you speak Christian?
Have you told anyone “I’m born again?” Have you “walked the aisle” to “pray the prayer?”
Did you ever “name and claim” something and, after getting it, announce, “I’m highly blessed and favored?”
Many Americans are bilingual. They speak a secular language of sports talk, celebrity gossip and current events. But mention religion and some become armchair preachers who pepper their conversations with popular Christian words and trendy theological phrases.
If this is you, some Christian pastors and scholars have some bad news: You may not know what you’re talking about. They say that many contemporary Christians have become pious parrots. They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort.
Marcus Borg, an Episcopal theologian, calls this practice “speaking Christian.” He says he heard so many people misusing terms such as “born again” and “salvation” that he wrote a book about the practice.
People who speak Christian aren’t just mangling religious terminology, he says. They’re also inventing counterfeit Christian terms such as “the rapture” as if they were a part of essential church teaching.
The rapture, a phrase used to describe the sudden transport of true Christians to heaven while the rest of humanity is left behind to suffer, actually contradicts historic Christian teaching, Borg says.
“The rapture is a recent invention. Nobody had thought of what is now known as the rapture until about 1850,” says Borg, canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.
How politicians speak Christian
Speaking Christian isn’t confined to religion. It’s infiltrated politics.
Political candidates have to learn how to speak Christian to win elections, says Bill Leonard, a professor of church history at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity in North Carolina.
One of our greatest presidents learned this early in his career. Abraham Lincoln was running for Congress when his opponent accused him of not being a Christian. Lincoln often referred to the Bible in his speeches, but he never joined a church or said he was born again like his congressional opponent, Leonard says.
"Lincoln was less specific about his own experience and, while he used biblical language, it was less distinctively Christian or conversionistic than many of the evangelical preachers thought it should be,” Leonard says.
Lincoln won that congressional election, but the accusation stuck with him until his death, Leonard says.
One recent president, though, knew how to speak Christian fluently.
During his 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush baffled some listeners when he declared that there was “wonder-working power” in the goodness of American people.
Evangelical ears, though, perked up at that phrase. It was an evangelical favorite, drawn from a popular 19th century revival hymn about the wonder-working power of Christ called “In the Precious Blood of the Lamb.”
Leonard says Bush was sending a coded message to evangelical voters: I’m one of you.
“The code says that one: I’m inside the community. And two: These are the linguistic ways that I show I believe what is required of me,” Leonard says.
Have you ‘named it and claimed it'?
Ordinary Christians do what Bush did all the time, Leonard says. They use coded Christian terms like verbal passports - flashing them gains you admittance to certain Christian communities.
Say you’ve met someone who is Pentecostal or charismatic, a group whose members believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. If you want to signal to that person that you share their belief, you start talking about “receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost” or getting the “second blessings,” Leonard says.
Translation: Getting a baptism by water or sprinkling isn’t enough for some Pentecostals and charismatics. A person needs a baptism “in the spirit” to validate their Christian credentials.
Or say you’ve been invited to a megachurch that proclaims the prosperity theology (God will bless the faithful with wealth and health). You may hear what sounds like a new language.
Prosperity Christians don’t say “I want that new Mercedes.” They say they are going to “believe for a new Mercedes.” They don’t say “I want a promotion.” They say I “name and claim” a promotion.
The rationale behind both phrases is that what one speaks aloud in faith will come to pass. The prosperity dialect has become so popular that Leonard has added his own wrinkle.
“I call it ‘name it, claim it, grab it and have it,’ ’’ he says with a chuckle.
Some forms of speaking Christian, though, can become obsolete through lack of use.
Few contemporary pastors use the language of damnation - “turn or burn,” converting “the pagans” or warning people they’re going to hit “hell wide open” - because it’s considered too polarizing, Leonard says. The language of “walking the aisle” is also fading, Leonard says.
Appalachian and Southern Christians often told stories about staggering into church and walking forward during the altar call to say the “sinner’s prayer” during revival services that would often last for several weeks.
“People ‘testified’ to holding on to the pew until their knuckles turned white, fighting salvation all the way,” Leonard says. “You were in the back of the church, and you fought being saved.”
Contemporary churchgoers, though, no longer have time to take that walk, Leonard says. They consider their lives too busy for long revival services and extended altar calls. Many churches are either jettisoning or streamlining the altar call, Leonard says.
“You got soccer, you got PTA, you got family responsibilities - the culture just won’t sustain it as it once did,” Leonard says.
Even some of the most basic religious words are in jeopardy because of overuse.
Calling yourself a Christian, for example, is no longer cool among evangelicals on college campuses, says Robert Crosby, a theology professor at Southeastern University in Florida.
“Fewer believers are referring to themselves these days as ‘Christian,’ ” Crosby says. “More are using terms such as ‘Christ follower.’ This is due to the fact that the more generic term, Christian, has come to be used within religious and even political ways to refer to a voting bloc.”
What’s at stake
Speaking Christian correctly may seem like it’s just a fuss over semantics, but it’s ultimately about something bigger: defining Christianity, says Borg, author of “Speaking Christian.”
Christians use common words and phrases in hymns, prayers and sermons “to connect their religion to their life in the world,” Borg says.
“Speaking Christian is an umbrella term for not only knowing the words, but understanding them,” Borg says. “It’s knowing the basic vocabulary, knowing the basic stories.”
When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means, Borg says.
Consider the word “salvation.” Most Christians use the words "salvation" or "saved" to talk about being rescued from sin or going to heaven, Borg says.
Yet salvation in the Bible is seldom confined to an afterlife. Those characters in the Bible who invoked the word salvation used it to describe the passage from injustice to justice, like the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian bondage, Borg says.
“The Bible knows that powerful and wealthy elites commonly structure the world in their own self-interest. Pharaoh and Herod and Caesar are still with us. From them we need to be saved,” Borg writes.
And when Christians forget what their faith means, they get duped by trendy terms such as the rapture that have little to do with historical Christianity, he says.
The rapture has become an accepted part of the Christian vocabulary with the publication of the megaselling “Left Behind” novels and a heavily publicized prediction earlier this year by a Christian radio broadcaster that the rapture would occur in May.
But the notion that Christians will abandon the Earth to meet Jesus in the clouds while others are left behind to suffer is not traditional Christian teaching, Borg says.
He says it was first proclaimed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century British evangelist, who thought of it after reading a New Testament passage in the first book of Thessalonians that described true believers being “caught up in the clouds together” with Jesus.
Christianity’s focus has long been about ushering in God’s kingdom “on Earth, not just in heaven,” Borg says.
“Christianity’s goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better,” he writes.
For now, though, Borg and others are also focusing on changing how Christians talk about their faith.
If you don’t want to speak Christian, they say, pay attention to how Christianity’s founder spoke. Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in, says Leonard, the Wake Forest professor.
“He used stories, parables and metaphors,” Leonard says. “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.”
When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people, he says.
“Speaking Christian can become a way of suggesting a kind of spiritual status that others don’t have,” he says. “It communicates a kind of spiritual elitism that holds the spiritually ‘unwashed’ at arm’s length."
By that time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian - they've become spiritual snobs.
I just wish more Christians knew the secret Christian handshake.
So... what salvation value does this "secret handshake" have?
Odin will rain down thunder upon thy false gods and idols, and destroy him with lightning. Your false idols will burn for all eternity under the weight of the Yggsdrasil. Meet your makers all children of the book. Yes all of you who pray to the false gods. The great Pantheon shall ride again.
I enjoy how folks that have no real relationship with Jesus or the scripture comment on what they do not understand. Christianity is hated because it is intolerant of sin. Plain and simple. What do we believe is sinful? Study the word yourself. No, the bible does not use the word rapture in it but the word is simply a word to describe what we believe will come to pass. It was written 2000 years ago that we will be hated as Jesus was. As I read these post I become so happy. Every person that bashes our faith simply proves the accuracy of the Bible..May God bless you all and may you find the one and only way to salvation..Our Lord and Savior..Jesus Christ
We need to pray for all these lost souls. There are so many still dying in sin. Be blessed.
2 words for you: "Magical Thinking"
You Said: "No, the bible does not use the word rapture in it but the word is simply a word to describe what we (believe) will come to pass. "
The operative word there is 'believe.' Not necessarily facts but 'beliefs' which may or may not be true.
Don't forget the other 15 crucified saviors. http://surge.ods.org/idle_religion/other_messiah.htm
Christianity is not hated "because it is intolerant of sin." Plainly and simply, Christianity does not discourage sin, because it teaches you that you don't have to be accountable for your own sins; ask Jesus for forgiveness and poof! they're gone and you gain the kingdom of heaven regardless of your transgressions. Serial murder? Rapist? Pathological liar? Swindler par excellence? No problem, my child – all if forgiven. But only on the condition that you join God's private club, say the magic words, follow the guidance of your "spiritual leaders," who will never, of course, misuse their authority as spokesmen for the Creator of the Universe. But in case any of you do slip up, no problem – see instructions above. By the way, the biggest falsehood in your post was the implication that Christians are hated or persecuted. In America today, being a non-believer is simply not acceptable. It would make election to a public office impossible. It can get your children harrassed and insulted. No, it is EMINENTLY practical, from a social standpoint, to claim membership in the church. And it is downright popular to ridicule and defame "secular humanists," agnostics, atheists, pantheists, etc., marginalizing THEIR beliefs with (false) claims that this is a Christian nation. It is not; it is a nation of religious freedom, despite the religious right's daily efforts to make this a Christian theocracy. I wish you peace, serenity and happiness, although I am well aware many reading this post will not wish me the same. Such is the charity of the self-righteous.
Christianity along with all other Abrahamic religions because its followers pick and choose which sins to hate according to their holy books. No, I am not an atheist, just an observer.
In 1Thessalonians 4:16-17, It says "For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which that are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." That's the rapture my friend!
That is not the rapture. Until the 1800s, not one Christian interpreted that verse literally and used it in an endtime scenario. All endtime scenarios are very recent inventions. The Church Fathers never wrote about 7-year tribulations, the Pope, the Rapture, the Jews in Israel ushering in Christ's coming, etc.
To transfer that verse into an endtime plot purposely distorts Paul's intention as Paul doesn't do it himself.
I was going to post the same verse as Steve, but since that is a "misinterpretation" tell us Todd was was Paul's intention in the context of 1 Thessalonians?
Episcopal theologia? Episcopals are not Christian. They strayed and the Anglicans left them. He has no credibility and this is nothing more than further attempts by the new age Episcopals to undermine Christians further.
Yes, how dare they embrace that Love Thy Neighbor thing! Those darn inclusive Episcopalians.
Anybody familiar with the term "Pharisee"? These are people that like to cast judgement on others for not being as religious as them. Apparently, they still exist today.
Yes, and this author is a perfect example
True! same Pharisee in different appearances.
This article attempts to portray Christianity, the largest religion in the world, as a tiny cult on the fringes of society. This would have been better placed if it was in pagan Rome in the 1st century AD, and even then it would have been every bit as defamatory and biased as it is now.
And just like pagan Rome, a few thousand years from now (or sooner) Christianity will be looked at as just another in a long line of religions INVENTED by MANKIND to deal with what he does not understand.
At the end of this century...Religion will be observed as a nutter's hobby.
Mythology for the sheep in 2011.
My favorite is the "Antichrist", which is an Evangelical myth not even supported in scripture. The word doesn't even appear in the book of Revelation. The idea that there will be one all powerful megalomaniac that will rise up and dominate the world is false. The true meaning of the word is just anyone or anything that is contrary to Christ. But good luck getting the pastors and novelists and movie producers to buy that one. The myth is a big money maker.
The thirteenth chapter of Revelation clearly defines the Antichrist as well as other passages. You must be one of those the author mentions as not knowing what you are talking about.
The "Antichrist" is described by many names ... the man of sin, son of perdition, little horn, and many others. The term "Antichrist" is only used in 1st and 2nd John, and refers more to the spirit of antichrist, than the man himself. But make no mistake, by whatever name you wish to call him .... he is coming soon, and will bring tribulation upon the unbelieving world.
I have one question for the writer, why does what we say bother you so much? Why is it worthy of writing this lousy biased article? I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant, oh I forgot, you're only scream tolerance when it's about you and your assumption of percieved assaults.
Guess you forgot that liberals believe in equal rights. Do you expect that they would have supported slavery or the inferiority of women? Same idea.
The problem with Bush using the same words to describe America the same way as Jesus is a form of idolatry. If you go through and look at the Christian speech in his statements you will find he is quite possibly the most blasphemous and idolatrous president in U.S. history.
I quit going to church long ago so I see this silly discussion as completely irrelevant.
Good for you, you are now you again. I guess you also have more spiritual freedom.
Your personal choice has nothing to do with the people those who go to church. You decided not to go and that was your call.
Excuse me! Just my thought about your view....
Yet worthy enough to comment on....hmmmmm.
THE VIDEO TELLS A FRAGMENT OF WHAT IS TRUE CONCERNING THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF "SALVATION"
First, before I respond, I pray for those that have contributed to this video's misleading teachings, and those that have mocked God. May He forgive you for all comments (before and after my posting). And may it be the will of God that He guides me and uses me in writing these comments to help us understand Him.
The video is telling the truth but is covering vital Biblical facts concerning "salvation". It is true, based on the video, that salvation means transformation here on earth. A person who understands God and is touched by The Holy Spirit and TRULLY accepts Jesus as his savior is (as the video puts it) "transformed here in this world".
Yes. The video is right. But is missing vital info. It is only telling you a fraction of the real story supported by the Bible.
Heres's how the video is right: The person gradually departs from a world of sinning (in this world) into a world of fighting against sin and temptations (in this same world) when you accept Jesus as your "Savior". That is the true meaning of when Christians call it "born again". If a person claims to have accepted Jesus but continues to live in sin (adultery, theft, murder, etc.) then that person NEVER trully accepted the Son of God as his savior.
But now the question remains...How do you know if one has trully accepted the Son of God as their savior?
ANSWER: If you are now a person who FIGHTS against sin. Against temptation. If you feel your inside disturbing you everytime you do something immoral or something that YOU know displeases God. And it continues to happen until you depart from this sin or temptation. That is when a person is then living with the Holy Spirit. That is when you have trully accepted the Son of God as your savior. It is why there are those who walk among us and say "I have been saved by the grace of God through his Son." As a result, the video is partially correct when it states that salvation is "a transformation of ourselves right here right now"
But make no mistake, the video is misleading. And its brilliant delivery could fool even Christian believers who thought different.
Here's why: The Bible is VERY clear on the fact that Jesus came to this world to die for our sins so that we have "ETERNAL SALVATION". To state as this video has indicated that salvation is simply "a transformation of ourselves right here right now" and simply leave it at that is corrupting the true message of the NEW TESTAMENT (not Old Testament).
Salvation is for the life BEYOND the one we know today. The New Testament is clear about that in Hebrews 5:8-9 which states:
"Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of ETERNAL salvation for all those who obey him." (Hebrews 5:8-9) Thus, salvation is not confined to this world as the video advocates.
Again, I pray for you who have dedicated so much time to distort God's message and His sacrifice that none of us deserved from Him. I leave you with my God's words, Jesus himself when he states: "Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don't have God's love within you. For I have come to you in my Father's name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can't believe! For you honor each other, but you don't care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God." (John 5:41-44)
Why do we keep referring to Bible if we don’t know who wrote it?
God bless you for this word. It is truely the end of times.
I have never before responded to someone's post on the Internet. But I just had to give a hearty shout out to Canaan. Your clarity and thoughtfulness are remarkable (especially compared to most of what is posted). I hope people will read and re-read your words. They present a mature, balanced presentation of the wonderful facts of the Christian gospel. Progressive, practical transformation now, resulting in lives of self-sacrificing love and service; the fullness of life in the kingdom of heaven forever, in the presence of the triune God, ages without end! Thanks to you brother for this solid bit of practical theology. Glory to our holy God who is so patient with those who foolishly mock Him. I used to be one of them.
REPS claim to be so christian yet are the least acting christians there could be. If they were so christian they would be in favor of social programs that help the less fortunate (regardless of race) instead of doing the kings' (rich folk) bidding. – This is from a reformed christian – the kind that woke up and realized all that bible bunk was just that...just a way to enslave people. how about NO Religeous affiliation can be announced during candidacy – just issues – Period. If someone wants to practice some crazy belief in the privacy of their own home or in a church with like minded nutjobs thats their right – but dont force you prayer on me, make policy based on those nutjob beliefs and please keep your blessings to yourself – I do not want them. *"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
Dear John Blake:
You are misinformed. You wrote:
Borg is either an ignorant or a liar. The Bible doesn't use the word rapture, but it describes the event that inspired such term.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died[c] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.
Smoke that one.
Actually it does not. The concept of the Rapture was unheard of until John Nelson Darby invented it around 1830. Do some research and quit parroting what your megachurch pastor tells you. It is a totally bogus doctrine for people who are too unintelligent to think for themselves. While it makes intesting fiction; it makes lousy theology. I've been saying this for years. I'm finally glad someone else is also; I'll definitely read his book.
If we believe in Jesus who said: I am the Way and the Truth, you cannot see the truth without going through me’ (it may not be correct word for word here, but I don’t think it is more important than the true meaning of what is said by Jesus).
If you say the same thing: ‘I am the Way and the Truth, you (pointing at you) cannot see the truth without going through me’. You may realize that the Way and Truth are clearly inside you i.e. you cannot see the truth without looking back at you or going through you. You are the truth that can only be found through the way that is also you. We do not need religions for seeking the truth.
You are right about no needing religion, you need a relationship with Jesus.
We have aleady been in relation with Jesus, you can find it out within yourself.
I think you must be confused. I am not sure that we are talking about the same person. Read the Bible.
The Bible only get people confused because we don't know who wrote it and people kept thinking Jesus is someone who is alien to self.
Yeah, I can speak idiot.
Yes, we can tell is your native language.
Excuse me, miss. I speak Jive.
Cut me some slack, Jack!
I expected this article to be another New York bashing of faith, but instead I read a well thought-out and accurate telling of a partial telling of Christianity over the past hundred or so years. It was quite refreshing to read from an author not pushing an agenda, merely shedding light. While the majority of "Christian" leaders do mean well, and only hope to bring others into their faith, those that they work with are too often more desiring to be in on the coolest and latest than they are concerned with the honesty and sincerity of the message they are conveying. Our society has definitely brought fads and movements to an extreme. MTV was a leader in harnessing the power of advertising and cultural influence and it has affecting even the religious establishments. Churches now seek to stay up to date with "relevant" language and lifestyle options. The notion of what the Church was meant to be has been lost, in my opinion of course.
What do you mean a New York bashing of faith. As a New Yorker I am interested into what you mean.
DanJ, And just what holier then thou part of the planet do you come from? Really, were? Not very Christian of you to judge now is it? Is not for your god to judge and not you? Hypocrite....
Shannon, get off line and read chapter 4, ni.....
I really wish that, as we died, just before the last traces of neuro-activity ceased, Christians Jews, Muslims and all other theists had a real "oh s*%t" moment as they faded into obscurity, where they realized that all their praying, bowing and bobbing was for naught. A real, "damn, I wish I fk*ed her "moment".
Alas, as an atheist, we have to take the good with the bad. They will live their entire lives deluded and die the same way.
How they, before a moment of their death, will be able to know to whom they were praying, bowing and bobbing i.e. how they will be able to tell what God or Jesus looks like? All they are doing while still breathing the air on earth is trying to win the debate by cursing the nonbelievers.
Ah Colin, you rascal! You REALLY got the religious right on the ropes this time don't you! Since you've been told that there is no life beyond the grave and you KNOW it is a fact because others told you so; then all religious people are deluded nutbars. Yet, they base their religious beliefs on what others have told them too – just like you! Finally, in the end, no matter what one believes or does not believe, death remains the great equalizer. For the Christian who TRULY practices what Jesus taught in the Gospels they have harmed no one. They have "turned the other cheek" and prayed for those who persecuted them. They visited those in need in prison and in hospitals. They have been involved in humanitarian aid. They believe they have good news to tell others. According to you, after all this they slip into oblivion – knowing nothing since they no longer exist. Yet how do you know this for certain any more than the Christian knows there's heaven waiting for them. While they may have an "oh sh#@" moment just before they die, it could just as easily be said that YOU will have such a moment just as you die and the veil is torn between this life and the next. Just sayin'.
I do not believe in atheists
Can you prove this? What definitive empirical evidence do you have that nothing exists after death? To make such a statement is idiotic, because it cannot be proven. The most you can say is that no one knows definitively what happens after death. Scientist are not qualified to speak on this matter because this is not a matter for science. This is the realm of faith and regardless of what you believe about what happens after death you believe by faith. You can have faith that nothing happens, or you can believe in an afterlife, but either way it is just faith.
Maganum 44, how do you know Collin "was told" by others that you turn into dirt when you die. Why cant he truly believe it in his hart like you do about your faith? And honestly I know people that do a lot more good work then you mentioned (They visited those in need in prison and in hospitals. They have been involved in humanitarian aid) who are not religious in any way shape or form. They do it because its the right thing to do. By the way, I'm not an atheist, I'm agnostic. If you think its the same thing you need to look up what agnostic means. If you still think its the same thing like many Christians do, you are being quite a judgmental christian.
if your last thought is d%&/m I should have F_Ked her, your life was pretty shallow.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.